Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Diaper Dilemma

Diaper rash. The environment. What's in those scary disposable things anyway? Laundry, mounds and mounds of laundry and the communal washer & dryer. Diaper pails. Where have all the diaper services gone? Why isn't there some way to combine convenience & ethical consumption???

Yes, friends. The question of what we'll be putting on our daughter's butt is fraught with morally problematic consequences. It is one dark deep morass of ethical quandary.

Here's what we've figured out so far. There are three basic options. No, really, there are three. Surprisingly. First, we can be evil and use disposable diapers. We can try to mitigate our evilness by using Seventh Generation diapers such as one finds at the Whole Foods down the street. (Although we'd order them online and save $$$.) But these are not any more biodegradable than your average Huggies; the difference seems to be a health-related concern about the effects of chlorine on your baby's bum. Or, we could be brave and use cloth. This breaks down into 2 sub-options, at least theoretically, because we could 1) use a diaper service, or 2) launder them ourselves.

Or, the amazing third option: gDiapers. These nifty little things are disposable, flushable, and biodegradable. No diaper service. No laundry. No diaper pail. And they won't be the last thing left on earth after the nuclear blast along with the cockroaches.

Yes, I'm in love with option #3. The problem is, these wonderful little innovations are twice as expensive as normal disposables, and significantly more than what a diaper service would cost, even. Here's how the numbers crunched out (oh, yes, we crunched the numbers, we're serious about our dilemma): Seventh Generation disposables, $700/year; cloth (diaper service), $800-900/year; cloth (self-laundered), $200/year; gdiapers, $1500/year.

Now, seriously, the problem breaks down like this. Laundering our own diapers? Stinky and a lot of effort, but these things are not hurdles for me personally. I'm stoic. But the communal washer/dryer situation? Not only is this massively inconvenient in terms of flights of stairs and possible usage conflicts, but how many neighbors are likely to look upon the usage of their washer for loads of diapers without resentment, fear of contagion, and downright hostility? So...diaper service? So far all our searching has led us to about three defunct services, one private residence and two fax numbers. You'd think Princeton would have a diaper service--all these rich and supposedly liberal, educated, care for the environment types--but apparently not. So...it comes down to, do we cave and start shopping at Sam's for the cheapest Huggies around, or do we start waiting tables to afford ethical diapers for the kid?

Seriously, those of you who have already braved the terrifying unknown of parenthood, any advice? Anything we've overlooked? Those of you with masterful research skills, have we missed a fourth option? Those of you also facing the prospect of imminent parenthood, what are you doing?

16 comments:

jch said...

Yeah, you could do the cloth diaper thing but isn't it just as harmful for the environment by doing all those loads of laundry? Doesn't that equal out in the long-run? And yes, please consider your neighbors. I just don't think it's viable or, in the end, a better environmental decision.

As for you favorite option, gDiapers, doesn't it strike you that in order to be ethical in our day-to-day living that we have to make loads of money? So in the end something gives. Your daughter's *output* won't be responsible for causing damage to the earth but you'll spend less time with her because of the second job you've taken on in order to pay for her diapers. And so you become just like the rest of the over-worked/workaholics who buy organic food, use gDiapers, and drive hybrids, yet, you lose touch with your spouse and don't know your child. Ugh.

But alas, there is a fourth option you have neglected. And because you claim that you are stoic in your resolve to do the right thing, this option is right up your alley: potty train your infant from birth. I'm surprised, with your global traveling experiences, you didn't come up with this. It's done all over the world. It's just that we American folk are either too lazy or too busy working for our gDiapers that we don't even consider it.

Jen, I hope you read this knowing that I'm writing with a hint of sarcasm. I love that you guys want to do right by this world. It is an example to us all. Thank you for taking God's words about creation seriously.

hermit jeremy said...

we did cloth for the first two weeks. the problem with cloth was exhaustion. i know, i know, that's a horrible reason for giving up on saving the world.

i know persons who do a mix... cloth for home and disposable for away/night time.

Rick said...

I think I've already told Brent this, but...

If you're using a non-petroleum and non-chlorine based laundry detergent, having cloth diapers definitely makes a significant difference over disposables. In fact, even if you're using a standard detergent, cloth is still better. You'll be using hot water and possibly a little bit of toxins in the detergent, but that doesn't compare to a big pile of plastics. As w/ most environmental issues, there's no way of having a completely benign effect, but there are more and less harmful solutions.

Since there's an issue w/ not having a good laundry system there and you haven't been able to find a diaper service, I would be tempted to go w/ the Seventh Generation choice. The abundance of plastic you'll be throwing away is an obvious issue, but avoiding chlorine is definitely a positive -- probably more for the environment than for your daughter's bum.

The gDiapers are really cool, but I haven't been able to make up my mind about their cost-effectiveness. The plastics, et al., in diapers certainly have a significant environmental impact, but $800/year is a large premium to be paying over using Seventh Generation.

TKP said...

Have the baby be a woman of cloth! And maybe use gDipers when you travel or in emergencies. :)

priscilla said...

Here is option #5 (I think). You could try kushie diapers (go to www.kushie.com). They are cloth diapers that are shaped and have snaps or velcro to hold them together, are layers of cotton that absorb spills and other stuff, and have a liner that is flushable. You can also get them with a waterproof outer, or this can be bought separately. We tried these, and they were by far better than normal cloth diapers. It may be cheaper to buy them in Canada but who knows.
I have some somewhere in New Zealand, so i will try to track them down and get them sent over here.

Jamie said...

Good to have met you and Brent! I've heard that you were great people and now I have first-hand knowledge. I'll pray for your family. And the future poop issues.

JRB said...

Hi, my friend Magnusson sent me your way, seeking insight into your dilemma. We have a 14 month old girl with one on the way. Here was my response to him, for what's its worth. (Also, be it known that I'm a liberal, elitist, ivy-tower lawyer, so I have cred on the other stuff. . . )

That's interesting and hilarious and so full of literal and figurative crap that it must have come from a liberal, elititist, Ivy-league theologian. I'm going to let {__ } give me a big ole Witness when I say that those high faluting notions will last about 3 weeks after birth. Pollute the environment for goodness sakes! There are enough hidden costs in parenting that attempting to absorb the gDialper costs is untenable. PLUS, I have serious, serious, serious concerns about the actual effectiveness of water-soluble, flushable diapers that dissolve quickly enought to be flushed without waste. Isn't that the problem to begin with?

PAMPERS! PAMPERS, Baby!

jsg said...

Hi,
Hermit Jeremy told me about your blog. I assumed I'd engage in some theological conversation when I came here, but as the parent of two little ones in diapers (age 14 months and 24 months), you've hit on another topic close to my heart! I'll save the theological talk for another day. Still, as you and Joe both point out, this does have theological relevance regarding stewardship of creation. I've read that 19 billion diapers (3 million tons) are sent to landfills each year.
I have been very happy with the cloth diapers I use for my kids. Even with two babies, it's not terribly inconvenient to use cloth since I use an all-in-one type similar to the Kushies another person described. Ordering them in bulk cuts down on cost (www.clothdiaper.com), and you can also order a handy "poop-squirter" that attaches to your toilet. Just squirt off the poop and then you can easily launder the diapers yourself. (Maybe that was more info than you needed -- but it's really nice to have that!) The website gives instructions for laundering. With two babies in the house, we only have to wash diapers about twice a week. Not too hard. Also order their diaper bin with oh-so-handy "aroma discs" that eliminate odor -- that should take care of the neighbors.
Echoing HJ, the first couple of weeks are hard and exhausting, so maybe you could use disposables for a couple of weeks when you're especially pooped (couldn't resist) and then switch to the cloth ones. After that, once you use the cloth diapers for a few weeks, they don't seem inconvenient -- any more inconvenient, that is, than having to change diapers in the first place.
After about 7-8 months, we started using disposables at night since the kids seemed to pick up speed in their night time bathroom activity. Still, that only means we have to use 7 disposable diapers per kid each week.
All the best to you as you embark on this wild ride of parenthood!

pat said...

Hear, hear! I agree with jrb. I know I'm the ecologist-minded MOM who raised you up without Pampers (except for trips), but really....I agree with his/her assessment. Parenting is hard enough when you start to worry about all that stuff. Do what is easy so that you can keep your sanity and wits about you. That's why I slept with all my babies...because I could then be a more sane MOM! After you get the hang of it, then you can turn your mind to the environment. But at the beginning, I say Pampers!

JTB said...

Wow, readership seems to be really picking up. Maybe I should stick to writing about vaginas and poop, what a successful formula...

I appreciate the fact that there is, in the end, no magical solution which is entirely problem-free. (Diapers sound a lot like theology that way.) When we get back home I will check out the Kushies--and Joe, I actually visited that site about infant potty training... :)

We'll see. I also feel better about the seventh generation diapers since Rick pointed out that the chlorine-free bit is also an environmental improvement. I have a feeling that this is what we will end up doing, at least for this baby. Cloth still seems to me to be a perfectly viable option generally speaking, as long as one has the facilities to launder. It certainly is unarguably cheaper. But the more I think about it, sharing a single washer and dryer between 8 households seems less and less adequate. And since the gDiaper thing, cool as it sounds, is so completely out of reach, figuring out the niceties of whether it is in the end ecologically more sound (will use of these diapers strain the water treatment systems, etc.) is moot in terms of decision-making for me at this point. I would defer to experts here anyway (Rick being my favorite expert on all questions ecological).

So, MOM laughed at me when we called her in the midst of our research and number crunching but you'll notice that she too has participated in this discussion just as seriously as anyone. I know it's only one of a myriad parenting decisions to come, and nowhere near the most important. But it's MOM who's quoted to me for the entire duration of my life: "faithful in little, faithful in much."

priscilla said...

I forgot to mention that - should you need it, we have a very nice laundry room situated right within the walls of our house, which realistically gets used a couple of times a week. We are so blessed to have this convenience, that we are more than happy to share it with you. However, you will need to do the actual laundering yourself. I am kind of done with washing poop off of everything (well, mostly done).
The plus side of it is that you have to stay and visit with us while the magic machines wash and dry. Drinking coffee, playing with our toys and even if necessary, have a nap in our spare bedroom while I get to play with your little bundle of poop-free baby.
Seriously, our laundry room is your laundry room.

pat said...

Priscilla, whoever you are, you are so sweet. And Jen, I'm proud you remember the mantra. And yes, if a laundry room is an option, I'd do the cloth. Even though I did stick one of you once with the diaper pin...can't remember who. Surely by this day and age, there's alternatives to those big, blunt diaper pins. What I really hated was the plastic pants that went over the diapers. After so many washings, they didn't get softer, they got stiffer and rubbed your poor little legs...especially yours Jen, since you had so much leg to rub...HA, HA! But, hopefully, there's an alternative for those horrid things as well. I'm sure BB (baby Bates) will be well taken care of in this department after so much deliberation. I'll change her no matter what she's wearing!

JTB said...

How could I not remember the mantra? You said it at least once a week for my entire life! There have indeed been many improvements in the cloth diaper world. I also found some knitting patterns for diaper covers that, if you knit them in wool that still contains lanolin, are reusable several times before needing to be washed--something about lanolin being absorbent without getting wet or stinky. Plus if I knit them myself I can make sure the leg holes are nice and big for the Brontosaurus thighs my children are certain to inherit. Maybe BB2 will benefit from this...depending on where in the world we find ourselves when that time comes.

Oh, and to jsg: there's not really a whole lot of straightforwardly theological posting around here...I do so much of that kind of writing that this little blog is to get all the other miscellaneous stuff out of my head and out of the way. Diapers is much more typical a topic than theological anthropology. But every so often I will discover the need to rant about something theological in a vein not quite appropriate for any other forum...

hermit jeremy said...

i would say, though, if you are seriously considering the cloth... to go ahead and make the purchase now.

we didn't. we borrowed from friends. thus, when the exhaustion hit like a 18 wheeler in the night, we didn't have the "well, we've already spent the money on cloth" hanging over us to make us go back to the fabric of our lives.

Bret Sims said...

G Diaper flushable insert is very misleading mainly because;

1) the non woven material that contains the absorbent material does not break down enough by the time it reaches the waste water treatment plants which results in the material clogging the screens. The material then has to be skimmed off and buried in a landfill so the impact on the environment is actually worse than just throwing it in your normal trash.

2) The absorbent gel in the product can cause major issues in the pipes over time as particles will cling to each other and swell over time, reducing water flow and causing the replacement of lines. Not to mention how in the heck is the waste water treatment plant going to handle the massive increase in gel volume should people start flushing the inserts. It would result in millions of dollars to create a new infrastructure.

Just because you flush it down your toilet doesn't mean it is good for the enviroment or for your wallet.

JTB said...

So, 3 years later, the truth is, we went Seventh Generation because of our communal laundry situation. I'm glad to get some extra insight on the gDiapers, but now that things have changed for us (we enjoy having our own washer and dryer now), in the future we will certainly be doing cloth!!! That is, for the hypothetical sibling my husband won't discuss until my dissertation is done. Baby #1 is way past time for getting potty trained IMO. (Not in hers.)